Evaluating the Evaluator: Has the ABA Rated President Trump’s Judicial Nominees Fairly?

Austin Nelson published a student note in the Texas Law Review entitled “Evaluating the Evaluator: Has the ABA Rated President Trump’s Judicial Nominees Fairly?
Abstract: Since 1953, the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary has evaluated presidential nominees for federal judgeships, rating them as Well Qualified, Qualified, or Not Qualified. The ABA insists that these ratings are “independent” and “nonpartisan,” but high-ranking Republicans, dating back to President George W. Bush and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, have challenged this assertion. To date, research published in journals of law, political science, and economics has largely supported Republican suspicions, finding a pro-Democratic and anti-Republican bias in the ABA’s judicial ratings. Senators from both major parties have recently questioned the credibility of the ABA and have called for a federal investigation into the ABA’s judicial evaluation process. In the words of Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, “the ABA has to assess whether its ratings are going to continue to have the kind of credibility they had merited and deserved in the past.”This Note takes up the question of the ABA judicial committee’s nonpartisanship. It evaluates the ABA ratings assigned to nominees for the U.S. courts of appeals, made during the administrations of George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump. This Note employs an ordered logistic regression model, it controls for relevant nonpolitical qualifications, and it finds no statistically significant difference in the way the ABA treated the appellate nominees of Presidents Bush, Obama, and Trump. Whatever was true in the past, today’s ABA ratings do not exhibit a clear partisan bias in either direction. The ABA’s judicial ratings favor appellate nominees who are legally experienced, regardless of the nominating president.